"We haven't seen you in here for a while," came the friendly greeting at the village pub, the other night, to where I had repaired in the evening. I had been fortunate this year to spend some time over Easter, away from Abingdon, away from the taxi and the incessant drive to make enough money to survive for one more week.
"Still a few days of Lent left, mate," I pointed out, explaining as I ordered my coffee, that I had given up drinking beer until Easter and that it was mostly easier for the avoidance of temptation, to stay away from the place altogether.
In one of the final scenes of the final episode of Inspector Morse, filmed on the terrace of the pub and originally broadcast in 2000, the eponymous character is asked if another drink is a good idea. "Think?" comes the response "That's why I want it, to think. I don't drink for pleasure."
So it is for me. It is somewhere that I go to sit in the garden in the summer, alongside the verdant banks of the River Cherwell - Oxford's lesser known river - to think and to write. To watch the sun go down, for which the pub garden is perfectly aligned, and to photograph it.
There are, of course, other traditional attractions of the village pub, such as the Monday night pub quiz, with its endlessly inventive team names: the marvellously ironic In Last Place – who always win – Quizlamic Extremists, I Thought This Was Speed Dating and others of a more bawdy nature, designed to catch out the Quizmaster, when she reads out the scores.
Then there is the opportunity for incisive political discussion, about Brexit and other pressing issues of the day "Brexit has killed off the traditional British booze cruise," being one of the opening gambits from the other night.
When I first discovered the existence of this village, many years before unhappy circumstances eventuated in the fortunate outcome of coming to live here, there were five pubs, a post office, a village shop and even a line ferry across the river, to north Oxford. Now, three of the pubs have been sold to have houses built on them – one costing in excess of a million pounds – and it is a twenty minutes walk to the nearest grocery shop, if you are young and fit enough.
It is largely thanks to the local preservation trust, who own the pub and much of the surrounding land, that this place even survives at all, on the edge of the city of Oxford.
These places are quite special. We've lost something of ourselves and our sense of community, when they go out of business. As the Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc wrote more than a hundred years ago, "when you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.”
As published in the Abingdon Herald 19 April 2017